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Knights of the NICU: Neonatal intensive care unit nurses give the gift of motherhood

"It doesn’t feel so much like a hospital anymore, because of the nurses"
Posted: 1:06 AM, Jun 01, 2023
Updated: 2023-06-01 04:06:30-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — They are the 'Knights of the NICU'—neonatal intensive care unit—at Banner Health.

“I get to hold babies—walk around and hold a baby. And I get paid for it,” says Nancy Gates, a registered nurse and developmental specialist at Banner Health. “I started out as a cuddler. I did that for four years then I decided to go back to school and become a nurse.”

These nurses care for the smallest of humans, with complex technology making neonatal care possible.

"The NICU is definitely a world of its own,” says RN Nichole Long, who also works at Banner as an outreach specialist. "Some days I'm jumping for joy, some days I'm hugging my son a little tighter.”

"We are trying to make it as close as the womb environment as we can,” Long walks me through some of the technology used to care for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“I want these parents to be an expert at their child's care when they leave this hospital,” Gates says.

Samantha Eckart is no stranger at the NICU.

“These are my fraternal twin girls, Charlotte and Madison,” Eckart says, introducing me to the two. "They were born at 24 weeks and they both weighed about a pound and a half.”

Her babies have spent over three months here.

Samantha Eckert's twin girls spent several months in the Banner NICU.

"It doesn’t feel so much like a hospital anymore, because of the nurses,” Eckert says. "I can leave knowing my babies are taken care of."

But as time passed—it’s gotten harder.

"I've noticed that as they are getting bigger, its even harder for me to leave because I'm not leaving the nurses to do nurse things—I feel like I'm leaving them to do mom things now.”

Ten years ago, Eckert was told she couldn’t have kids.

"Its okay, well adopt—and so we did,” Eckert tells me. "We knew we didn’t want to adopt babies, because babies always get homes. So that’s why we adopted the older kids.”

Eckert and her husband have three teenagers at home.

"I always thought that I was not able to have children because I was made to have the other two that I have first."

For Eckert, Maddie and Charlie are the true definition of 'miracle babies.'

"This all happened for a reason.”

They have given their mother more than just the gift of motherhood.

"This experience has convinced me to go to nursing school,” says Eckert. "I've decided that I want to be a NICU nurse."

"Its like I've finally found a passion.”

~Samantha Eckert

So in a few years, the Knights of the NICU will be getting a new member.

"You become part of their family, they become part of your family—it's pretty amazing,” says Gates.

All thanks to the amazing care they’ve provided for Eckert and her little girls.

"The babies that stay here for long periods of time, I get attached," says Long. "I probably shouldn’t get attached but I get attached.”

Heidi Alagha is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Heidi spent 5 years as the morning anchor in Waco where she was named the best anchor team by the Texas Associated Press. Share your story ideas and important issues with Heidi by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.